EVENTS & PROMOTIONS;JUST PLAYING ALONG; SUMMER IGNITES SAMPLING FRENZY FOR SEGA, NINTENDO VIDEOGAMES

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The only guaranteed way to avoid getting hooked on one of the hundreds of new videogame titles hitting the market this fall: Stay home.

Anyone venturing out to a mall, sporting event, concert, theme park, state fair or wide spot in the road between now and yearend is in grave danger of exposure to videogaming's most powerful marketing tool: sampling.

Nintendo of America hit the beaches this spring to get kids excited about its brightly colored new Game Boy handheld systems by sponsoring body painting contests using the game's signature colors.

But Sega of America, bracing for fresh competition from Sony Corp.'s new PlayStation videogame player plus other foes, has gone into overdrive in event marketing this summer, trying to get thousands hooked on its new games and hardware before school starts.

Traveling along with the Lollapalooza concert tour, Sega is getting concertgoers to line up to play its new high-performance 64-bit $399 Sega Saturn game machine for free, while 25 vans criss-crossing the U.S. are offering free Saturn experiences everywhere from parking lots to beaches.

All-Star lineup

Sega also lured hundreds of consumers into sampling its wares at last week's All-Star FanFest in Dallas, where many game titles for the mainstream 16-bit Genesis system were demonstrated. All summer Sega is maintaining a heavy presence at Orlando's Universal Studios and Walt Disney World's Epcot Center where thousands more will play its games for free.

"Firsthand experience is what sells these games, and there's no better way to get word-of-mouth out there than to get kids face to face with the game," said Tim Dunley, director of marketing for Sega Saturn.

The videogame thrust moves into shopping malls on Aug. 26 when Electronic Gaming Monthly launches its third EGM Super Tour, bringing dozens of hot new games not yet available in stores to malls across the U.S.

3DO Co.'s software will be showcased, along with Sony Corp.'s new system and software and video-game players made by Panasonic and Atari Corp. The tour, coordinated in-house, runs through Nov. 12.

Sony Corp. hasn't revealed other promotion plans for its $299 64-bit PlayStation, but industry insiders expect Sony to provide demonstrations at various different outlets beginning in August. Highway One, San Francisco-which coordinated Nintendo's PowerFest '94 150-event traveling videogame tour last year-is currently in talks to coordinate such events for Sony, as are other agencies.

Linking with Blockbuster

Nintendo, without a higher-power 64-bit home system yet on the market, hopes to drive consumers into Blockbuster Entertainment's stores to try one of its new $179 Virtual Boy handheld videogame systems this fall.

Beginning in mid-August, for $9.99 consumers can rent a Virtual Boy system and two software titles for two nights, getting a $10 coupon good toward the purchase of a Virtual Boy unit. The effort includes a sweepstakes promoted at Blockbuster outlets.

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